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Suicide prevention measures vital

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 05/02/2016

Health Minister Simon Hamilton
Health Minister Simon Hamilton

The small decrease in the number of suicides in Northern Ireland between 2013 and 2014 is welcome, but the unpalatable fact remains that the rate of people taking their own lives here is the highest in the UK. Most worrying of all is the admission by Health Minister Simon Hamilton that the rate may be on the increase again recently and the reasons why are still unknown.

While there has been a greater emphasis in attempting to stem the tide of suicides in recent years with £7m being spent annually on prevention initiatives, it is clear they are not having the desired effect.

Some of the contributory factors such as deprivation, the menace of drug abuse and the sense of hopelessness about life's prospects are common to many regions of the UK, so there must be other reasons for our unacceptably high rate.

The legacy of the Troubles is often put forward as a differentiating factor unique to Northern Ireland and a recent study by the Commission for Victims and Survivors revealed that an astonishing 213,000 adults were badly affected by the trauma of violence.

And almost one third of the population suffer mental health problems, half of them directly related to the Troubles.

The ongoing spectre of paramilitary violence - much of it directed at vulnerable young people in the form of punishment beatings, shootings and threats - must also be a contributory factor.

That begs the question if mental health provision in the province - historically an underfunded sector - is sufficient to meet the demands of those in desperate need. Those working in the sector feel it needs more investment but it has to be recognised that the NHS, in spite of consuming almost half of the annual £10bn block grant, is short of funding in many areas of its operation.

The call by the head of the organisation behind Lifeline, the crisis response hotline, for an urgent debate on how to tackle suicide prevention is one that should be heeded.

As he points out in a report elsewhere in this newspaper, a zero suicide approach adopted in Detroit produced remarkable results, reducing rates by 75% in just three years.

We need to adopt a similar mindset where suicide is not accepted as inevitable and put in place services which are accessible to those in crisis so that they do not feel isolated and helpless when they reach out for help.

Belfast Telegraph

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